Three

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

I woke up around seven that morning. I think I remember my flight was scheduled to leave around four, which meant I had to be at the airport around two o’clock. My dad picked me up at my aunt’s house, the place I called home for some five years after my divorce, and I kissed her goodbye. Her voice cracked as she hugged me, and I still feel a little guilt from leaving her; I never was super chatty with her, or spend any significant amount of time with her, this woman who was like a second mom to me. She seemed so frail… But I resisted.

It was the shortest breakfast ever. Then my dad, brother and sister in law came with me to the airport. And I hugged my mom, as her voice started cracking. I did not want to cry, not yet, but I have always been a mama’s boy. I felt a little lump as she blessed me, but I smiled and kissed her in the forehead.

I remember I had to take out one of my pants from the carry-on if I didn’t want to pay extra, which was just about as exciting my departure from Venezuela was, three years ago today. I was upending my entire life, and there was no drama, no complication, nothing when I left. My dad cried, of course; I take the easy-to-cry attitude from him. So did Andrea, my brother’s wife, my sweet cuñis. My brother may have, or may have not, all I remember was hugging him hard and begging him to look after my parents, that would try and do the same.

I spend the next two hours just wandering around. I had my laptop with me, and a notebook, but I found it hard to focus. Too much in my head, of course. I remember they played the final Planet Of The Apes movie on the plane and it didn’t even play the whole way through. I landed on Miami around eight pm. (Sorry if the hours don’t match, I’m struggling to remember. I now wish I had taken notes or, you know, take the journaling thing more seriously.) I was tired and a little disoriented, and now they have this new system to verify you’re entering legally. I had an buzzer, so I had to wait, but I got cleared no problem. So off I went.

My cousin and her two kids were waiting for me at the gate. She’s my aunt’s daughter and I haven’t seen them in well over ten years. The son is a big hulking nineteen-year-old, but still with a quiet, sweet disposition, I must say. The daughter is even sweeter, and I had already spoken to her about origami over Skype. They take me to a Denny’s for dinner, and all the while I’m just… looking around. I’m not really there. Part of me is still in disbelief I actually took this step. Part of me wants to just… begin.

That would happen two hours later when my connecting flight lands in Orlando. About half an hour goes by, and then… I see her. Y. shows up among the crowd looking for me. Even that wasn’t dramatic; no running in slow motion, no tears of joy. A long embrace and smiles and all the kisses we couldn’t give to each other for almost two years. We go off to the Uber that’s waiting for us, with D. sleeping in the back. I greet everyone who’s still awake… and NOW my story truly begins.

I’m happy to say that, despite the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, it’s been a pretty good three years. It’s been nothing but growth, realizing that I truly have been stunting my own potential. My first job was very much sobering, in a “We’re not in Kansas anymore” kind of way. I started out with only 200 dollars that I have no idea how they lasted so much. I found a job waiting tables that started out one way and ended… well, let’s just say another. As of now I’m looking at my second year as a server, and I realize it’s something that is slowly turning into not what I want to do (but will do for now).

A pandemic. The tensest election in modern history. Parenthood. Racism. I’ve been through all that, and I know I’ll be through much more. We have plans and needs, and we need more plans. But above all, I’m grateful. Grateful for the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet while I’m here, for all the good I’ve been able to find. And I’m certainly grateful that Y. and D. have allowed to be both more myself than I have ever been, and let me grow as a human being and as a man.

Let’s talk again when three becomes four, shall we?

Wait. Seek. Celebrate.

They looked like rejects from a Li’l Wayne video, four women ranging in age from sixteen to early thirties, gold teeth, pierced eyebrows, tattoos and fake blonde and purple hair . When I came up to their table, they hardly even acknowledged me. I only got to the “W” in “Welcome” when the youngest told me, or rather barked at me, “I already know what I want!”

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“We come from the same place”

My next-to-last table for the day was a big one: nine people. Two men, three women, and four ladies between twelve and I’m guessing twenty. As I approached I heard them talking not in English. My first reaction was to assume they were of the same nationality as I’d say roughly seventy per cent of my customers. Not to mention, they were of no ethnicity I could assume.

–Welcome! Brazil?

One of the men, a burly specimen in his mid-fifties but with a kind smile, flashed said smile and said in broken Spanish:

–No, Brazil no. Egipcios.

–Oh!–, I said, a little taken aback but not losing own my smile–. Then we continue in English.

They were a lively although demanding group. The girls were very easy to laugh, and the youngest one was what you could call an old soul. Near the end of the meal one of the ladies called me over.

–Are you Indian by any chance?

–No, ma’am. Venezuelan–. I smiled again, and assumed a Punjabi accent–. Though I am greatly respectful of the wonderful people of India.

I got the expected laugh out of the table, but then one of the ladies grew a bit serious.

–How long have you been here, sir?

–Since November, ma’am.

–Things are not good back home, yes?

–Not quite ma’am. I guess back yours they are better, right?

–No, no–. She pointed to the burly man. –He’s Egyptian, he’s my brother in law. We’re Syrian.

My heart sank, as you can imagine. –I am so sorry, ma’am, for everything that is happening in your country. Where are you living now?

–We’re in Canada. They live in New York.

 

I looked over at the girls again, this time with new eyes. Do either of them remember their country? What had they seen? What have they told them?

–You have all my sympathies. My country is also causing an immigration problem in the region.

–Why is that?

First, a reminder. Syria has been in the midst of airst civil war since March, 2011, briefly after the events of the Arab Spring toppled regimes in Tunisia and yes, Egypt. Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad refused to back down or even make decent reforms, so a full-on war exploded. This was also the beginning of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, but it also caused one of the worst refugee crisis in history. More than five million Syrians have fled their country, mostly toward Europe, by land and by sea. Many have drowned, and many others are caught in diplomatic limbo in refugee camps all over, especially in Greece, where they are not exactly welcome with open arms.

With that in mind, I explain to the lady that Venezuela itself is starting to cause an immigration crisis. Estimates of how many of us have left the country vary a bit, but most say that the number is between two and three million, mostly middle-class.But as the Council on Foreign Affairs of the United Nations noted recently, it’s starting to get worse. Colombia, which is right next door, has seen some 250,000 Venezuelans come in between August 2017 and March 2018, with some estimates of as many as 3,000 coming in a day. And the rest of Latin America is not far behind: according to The Washington Post, Chile has seen a 1,388% increase of Venezuelan immigrants since 2015; Panama, who saw an overwhelming influx of my countrypeople between 2010 and 2016, imposed new visa requirements that make it that much harder to come in the coun try; and, well, there’s this guy, who doesn’t exactly make it easy.

After I explain this, the woman looks at me with a sad smile. “So we come from the same place”, she sighs.

They were obviously a well-to-do family, perhaps even educated. They all spoke very good English, if with an accent. They still had family in the capital (Damascus), but they had survived the worst part. I was amazed to agree with her, because although my country is not at war, I too left a life that would not have let me reach my full potential. It doesn’t help that Assad and the late Hugo Chavez were quite chummy.

After they left, I moved up to Ian, one of my fellow servers, and sighed.

–That family that’s leaving is Syrian, man. I can’t even imagine.

–Oh for real?– he asked.

–They live in New York and Toronto now. Talk about a change.

–I’ve always wondered, how people just leave their countries, start trying to find a job and what not.

–Well, look at me. I was a reporter back home, now I’m a waiter.

And so many people like that. Omar, one of our bussers, is an oil engineer. My GF is a graphic designer who used to run her own cake-designing businesses and now is a hostess. And how many doctors, lawyers, dentists, economists and the such are working as cabbies, salespeople, construction workers. Not all of us truly wanted to leave the country that saw us grow, but many had no choice. Which makes what Venezuelan turd-in-command, Nicolas Maduro, said this week — “I wouldn’t go to clean toilets in Miami”– particularly irritating. And of course many answered back.

It’s a sad fact of life that to better support your family, or at least help them, the best thing many of us could do was leave, doing things we’ve never thought we’d do. And any job dignifies, no matter if it is cleaning toilets. All we want is the chance to get ahead in life, be wherever we may be. And that applies to all immigrants or refugees, be they Syrian or Venezuelan.

As I picked up their table, two of the girls lingered behind. I asked their mother permission to say one last thing. They told me they were twelkve and fifteen.

–No matter where you are, girls, always remember and care for your country. Because your country made you who you are. Learn everything about it, as much as you can, because it’s going to be up to you to fix the mess that your elders have left behind. We’re counting on you.

They listened carefully, and smiled what I operceived as honest, interested smiles. I wonder what would come later, how they would grow up. Only time can tell, of course. Meanwhile, here we are, and here we go on.

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